EDMONTON — The job’s not finished.
The core of this Tampa Bay Lightning team has been chasing the Stanley Cup for years, so what’s another two days between friends, right?
That’s not to discredit the Dallas Stars or pronounce this Final over. It’s merely a reflection of the Lighting’s attitude after having the trophy put back in its case with a 3-2 double-overtime loss on Saturday night.
“We’ve got a plan,” said head coach Jon Cooper. “It’s gotten us this far and we fully believe it’ll get us through the end.”
“They get the goal and we don’t, so it’s not a big deal,” added forward Anthony Cirelli.
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The Lightning were on the verge of a very big deal after Mikhail Sergachev gave them a 2-1 lead before the third period was four minutes old. They nursed it into the second half of the period before Joe Pavelski found a loose puck at the edge of the crease and did what he’s been doing for years.
It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see them pull out oxygen tanks on the Dallas bench during the first overtime period. This was the difficult end of a back-to-back and the Stars were taking on water while leaning heavily on their top-four defencemen — seeing Tampa out-attempt them 25-7 and outshoot them 7-2.
“I thought we played a good enough game to win,” said Lightning forward Ondrej Palat. “I thought in overtime we really tilted the ice, we had a lot of possession, a lot of chances, we just didn’t score on them.
“So yeah, they’re a good team, they battled back.”
The Stars gave it a push in the second overtime and won it on Corey Perry’s goal-mouth scramble at 9:23. A John Klingberg point shot ricocheted off two Tampa players and stopped at the edge of the crease before Perry slid it around Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“They’re a good team at getting pucks to the net,” said Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman. “It’s one of those things, you block a shot and it just lays behind you. We’ve got to be a little bit harder to help Vasy, but yeah, they made a nice play.
“They went hard to the net and they got a puck there and they put it in. That’s the end of it, we’ll look over it and get better for next game.”
They had an excellent chance to break the NHL bubble and finally get their hands on the Cup, but the tape will reveal that this was not Tampa at its best.
The Lightning appeared to be a step off for much of the night and didn’t create the kind of high-danger chances on Khudobin it had while building a 3-1 series lead. They also got just one first-period power play — Khudobin was the only reason they didn’t cash in there — so the goals were tougher to come by.
This was the sort of style Dallas needed to play with its season on the line.
Tampa will find some comfort from the fact it hasn’t dropped consecutive games yet in these playoffs and it lost Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final under similar circumstances before closing out the New York Islanders in the sixth.
With a little rest, and a refreshed attitude, they’ll look to repeat that script on Monday night.
“We’ve felt this feeling before,” said Cooper. “We have felt this sting and then we’ve rebounded. But the big thing is to get some rest here.
“Just in the end you could see — I don’t know, if that game went any longer, I don’t know if there would have been any goals scored.
“I think both teams were pretty tired.”
They’ve been at this for nine weeks now.
For many of the Lightning, this is the 15th playoff series they’ve gone through since 2015 and it’s the closest they’ve been to lifting the Stanley Cup. They managed to keep their minds in small places with the trophy inside Rogers Place on Saturday night, but they couldn’t quite seal the deal.
“I thought we kept it cool,” said Hedman.
The heat will get turned up quickly if they don’t get the next one.
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